I’m wondering now why it has taken me so long to pick up this book, The Walk, by Jeffrey Robinson; I’ve had it on my shelves since December, and I’ve kept my eye on it as a possibility, but never quite got around to it. But when I picked it up yesterday on a whim, I realized very quickly that it is a book I’m going to enjoy a lot. First of all, and this isn’t even related to the book itself, I noticed that it’s published by Dalkey Archive Press, and it’s got a list of their books in the back, a list which looks quite wonderful, full of world literature titles, some of which I’ve heard of and many of which I haven’t. From what I can tell, they seem to be lesser-known works that tend toward the experimental and subversive. I’ve only recently begun to check out publishers’ websites and blogs, and now I’m wondering what took me so long with this too; I’ve enjoyed checking out the Hesperus Press blog and A Different Stripe, the New York Review of Books Classics blog.
But back to the book; after checking out the Dalkey Archive books, I looked through the “Bibliographic Essay” and the “Afterword,” both of which list books about walking. This sort of essay is a goldmine, isn’t it? Neither of them lists a whole lot of books, but the ones they do are intriguing. Here are a few of them:
- The Walker’s Literary Companion, eds. Roger Gilbert, Jeffrey Robinson, and Anne Wallace
- Walks in the World: Representation and Experience in Modern American Poetry, by Roger Gilbert
- Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust (I’ve raved about this one on this blog before)
- Joseph Amato’s On Foot: A History of Walking
- Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (I’ve read bits of this but never the whole thing)
- Edward Hoagland’s Walking the Dead Diamond River
- Gary Snyder’s book of poems The Back Country (I’ve never read Snyder, but think I will one day)
- Eric Newby, A Traveller’s Life
- Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
- Aldous Huxley’s Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist
- Authors who write about urban rather than rural walking, including Restif de la Bretonne, Baudelaire, Nerval, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Kafka, and Walter Benjamin. Also, Alfred Kazin (A Walker in the City), and poets Frank O’Hara and Charles Reznikoff.
And that’s not even all of it, and doesn’t include books mentioned in the main text itself. I’ve read the first two chapters of the main text, the first one an introductory chapter and the second on “The Foot and the Leg.” I love the idea of a chapter on the foot and the leg! I may post on quotations from the introductory chapter some other time, but for now, here are a couple of things from this second chapter:
People observe their feet or write about them with a unique detachment. The foot is not quite a part of the rest of the body, but not quite part of the mind and heart that direct actions and receive impressions. The foot is simply there, as the shoe that eventually may fit it is simply there.
Yet this does not mean that thoughts about the foot are simple or that people agree about its functions and, more provocatively, its character. Thoughts about the foot tend to exist in oppositions: the useful vs. the useless, the primitive or natural vs. the civilized, the animal vs. the spiritual, the physical vs. the mental, the heavy vs. the airy, the earthly vs. the spiritual, the ugly vs. the beautiful, the repulsive and disgusting vs. the sexually attractive and the adorable, the innocent vs. the seductive. The foot either responds to the body’s commands or works from an independent center. The foot is a thing or it is human.
And one more thing from later in the chapter:
Charles Lamb gushed over walking: “walked myself off my legs, dying walking!” This would be life as a pleasurable fulfillment, a leavening of the body into spirit, the rhythm of the legs dissolving the weight of the legs into energy. “To walk one’s legs off” does not indicate dismemberment. No violence hides beneath the swing of the legs. Along with the legs, one will have walked off self-consciousness, all heat. One may have arrived at what Rilke calls “The profound indifference of the heart.”
This is one of the reasons I love walking so much; I can walk off self-consciousness, and turn weight into energy.